5 of the Best Colorado Day Hikes to Help You Train for Colorado 14ers

   5 of the Best Colorado Day Hikes to Help you Train for Colorado 14ers   | Colorado is well known for its list of big 14,000 foot peaks, and if you are keen to tackle some of them it’s good to get a few training hikes under your belt before your big summit adventures. In this post we talk about 5 of the best Colorado day hikes as well as great training hikes for Colorado’s big fourteener mountains. Be ready for summit day with these 5 amazing but leg busting hikes. You’ll be at 14,000 feet in no time! |  shedreamsofalpine.com

Colorado is well known for its list of big 14,000 foot peaks, and if you are keen to tackle some of them it’s good to get some training hikes under your belt before your big summit challenge. Training hikes help to not only build your stamina and muscles for big 14er hikes, but also provide great mental training that will be crucial for you when you are feeling tired. In this post my friend and fellow outdoor blogger, Chris a.k.a. "The Bold Nomad", talks about 5 of the best Colorado day hikes that are great training hikes for Colorado’s big fourteener mountains. These are some of best trails in Colorado and with these leg busting training hikes, you’ll be at 14,000 feet in no time! To learn more about Chris, check out his bio at the bottom! 


Colorado is home to the most 14,000-foot peaks in the U.S.  Alaska comes in second with 29, and California is third with 12.  Depending on how you decide to classify what distinguishes a peak as being its own 14,000ft monolith, there are anywhere between 53 and 58 in Colorado.  Some believe that to classify as its own 14er, a peak must rise at least 300 feet above the saddle that connects it to its neighboring 14er.

Climbers, skiers, and peak-baggers from all around the U.S. and the world are drawn to the numerous and massive peaks here in Colorado.  Some set out to climb them all, some to do the most iconic, and some to tackle the more difficult mountaineering routes.  Most all of the Colorado 14ers are hikable without technical gear or experience.  However, there is a saying that says “no 14er is easy”, meaning that just due to the shear altitude, even the “easiest” 14er can become difficult.

I personally have done 14 distinct 14ers in Colorado thus far.  I have done a couple of those 14ers multiple times.  My personal experience on Colorado’s 14ers have ranged from easy day hikes, to dangerous conditions in which I’ve had to turn around and abandon my summit attempt.  The first 14er I completed was Longs Peak, not necessarily recommended as a good first 14er to do.  But the challenge was memorable, both because it was my first, and I did it with my brother.  That summit won’t be a hike I’ll soon forget.

If you're interested in learning more about getting prepared and training for fourteeners, check out these 7 tips to hiking and summiting your first fourteener mountain, which goes into much more detail about picking the right 14er mountain, planning for your summit, training, and more.

Location of the 5 colorado day hikes

Preparing yourself for hiking a 14er is something that I recommend.  You may be able to do a 14er right now, sure, but if you prepare yourself for the climb, I promise you’ll be able to enjoy it so much more.  Doing other hikes to familiarize your body with the demands of hiking a 14er is a great start! 

Below I’ve listed some of the best places to hike in Colorado that are great training hikes. They are located all up and down the front range, that you’ll enjoy in themselves, and as a way to prep for a more difficult 14er hike. Below is a map showing the location of each of the hikes discussed below. 

 Location of the best Colorado day hikes.

So without further ado, here are 5 of the best day hikes in Colorado to help you train for your next big adventure. 

1. Hiking South Boulder Peak

 Looking West from the Summit of South Boulder Peak.

South Boulder Peak Quick Facts:

  • Height: 8,549 ft.
  • Trail to Summit: Homestead Trail, Shadow Canyon South, Shadow Canyon, South Boulder Peak
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Total Mileage: 7.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,936 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking: None
  • Fun Fact: South Boulder Peak is the highest of the Boulder, Colorado Foothills.

This is one of the best day hikes near Denver that I’ve done many times!  The reason being is it is very close and convenient to anyone living in the Boulder/Denver area.  If you want to tackle a big hike without traveling far, this is the one!  Climbing nearly 3,000 feet in just over 3 miles is a great way to find out how climbing a 14er might feel like.  The Shadow Canyon section of this hike is brutal.  But the rewards are well worth it.  When you top out on the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak, you are immediately struck by views that prove how much you’ve just climbed.  South Boulder Peak is the highest in the immediate Boulder Foothills.  The views from the top are endless in all directions.  On a clear day you can see Denver, Boulder, Longs Peak, and maybe even Pikes Peak to the south.

The elevation gain over the relatively short mileage is what makes this a great training hike.  If you are interested in stepping up your game, head back down the saddle and summit nearby Bear Peak (8,459’).  You could even challenge yourself to the famous Boulder Skyline Traverse.  In which you’d traverse the entire length of the immediate Boulder foothills.  This would include: South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff, and Sanitas.  This hike covers over 16 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain.

2. Hiking the Manitou Incline

 View looking down on the very popular Manitou Incline.

Manitou Incline Quick Facts:

  • Height: 8,600 ft.
  • Trail to Summit: Manitou Incline, Barr Trail
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Total Mileage: 3.6 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,052 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking: None
  • Fun Fact: There are 2,744 steps!

Want to get your heart rate up and looking for some hiking near Colorado Springs?  Just tackle this steep incline in Manitou Springs, CO.  Just west of Colorado Springs, this unique and popular challenge will surely test your quads.  Made from the remnants of an old cog railroad, “the incline”, as it is locally known, rises straight up towards Pikes Peak.  Many people are drawn to the incline for their weekly, or even daily workout.  I recommend hiking up this steep incline but following the Barr Trail back down.  Not many hike up the Incline and back down, the steps are just too drastic.

Just like South Boulder Peak, this hike is a great way to experience huge elevation gains over short mileage, much like you’d see on a 14er.  You might even get a bit dizzy looking back down what you have just climbed, being as the climb is so drastic.  This climb is super rewarding, because each time you take a break and turn around, you can immediately see how high you’ve climbed.  An extra challenge? Try timing yourself each time you do it, trying to build endurance with each attempt.

3. Hiking Chasm Lake

 Looking down on Chasm Lake from the Summit of Longs Peak

Chasm Lake Quick Facts:

  • Height: 11,760 ft.
  • Trail to Summit: Longs Peak Trail, Chasm Lake Trail
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Total Mileage: 8.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,522 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking: None. (Unless planning to overnight)
  • Fun Fact: Longs Peak’s famous East Wall, known as the ‘Diamond’ rises 2,400 ft. from the lake

Chasm Lake sits directly under Longs Peak’s (14,255ft.) east wall, and offers incredible views you won’t soon forget.  Chasm Lake sits at 11,760 feet, so this hike will give you more exposure to higher elevations.  The majority of the trail leading up to Chasm Lake is also the trail you’d take to summit Longs Peak.  As a bonus you could also hike up to the Boulder Field (roughly 12,660ft.), or even up to the Keyhole (13,150ft.).  If you make it to the Keyhole and peak through, you’d get a sense of the exposure, and scrambling you’d need to do in order to reach the summit of Longs Peak.

Hiking and exploring this area leading up to Longs Peak is great training because you’re able to get as much out of it as you wish.  You’ll climb above tree line, get some decent mileage under your belt, and have stunning views to boot. 

Pro Tip: Get to the trail head early, as this is a very popular route to Longs Peak, and the trailhead parking lot fills up fast.


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4. Hiking the Comanche-Venable Loop

 View of lake on the Comanche-Venable Loop Hike.

Comanche-Venable Loop Quick Facts:

  • Height: Tops out at 12,820 ft.
  • Trail to Summit: Comanche Trail, Venable Trail
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Total Mileage: 12.79 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,747 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking: None
  • Fun Fact: The Phantom Terrace contains no phantoms and is not haunted

This is a fantastic hike, and one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado. This hike has waterfalls, high alpine lakes, goes above tree line, and like most hikes in the Colorado high country, stunning views!  I have personally done this hike twice, in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions (you can’t go wrong either way).  You really do get a little taste of everything on this loop.  You will hike through Aspen Groves, get to challenge yourself well above 12,000 feet, and test your mental on the phantom terrace.  The phantom terrace is a narrow path with steep drop offs to one side, and a steep wall on the other.

Challenging yourself to do this as a day hike would make it a fantastic training hike.  I have done it as a day hike, and it will take you several hours, so plan accordingly.  Otherwise, there is camping along this loop, and you could make it a fairly easy two-day trip.  As a bonus, and to increase the training benefits from this hike, you could scramble up a 13er or two.  Comanche Peak and Venable Peak are easily identifiable, and climbable.  There are no trails to these peaks however, so it will test your off-trail route finding skills.

5. Hiking Flattop Mountain

 View from the top of Flattop Mountain in the winter.

Flattop Mountain Quick Facts:

  • Height: 12,362 ft.
  • Trail to Summit: Flattop Mountain Trail
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Total Mileage: 8.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,857 ft.
  • Permit Required for Day Hiking: None
  • Fun Fact: This trail, and the trails running through this area of Rocky Mountain National Park were known to the Arapahoe Indians in the past.  They called it “The Big Trail”.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a stunning mountain-scape both in summer and winter. So many great hikes are available in the park, including Flattop Mountain, which is one of the best mountains to hike in Colorado. Starting from the Bear Lake parking lot, this hike takes you up above the trees, and above the stunning Emerald Lake.  This hike can be done in all seasons; in winter, if you’re interested, you can skin up and ski or board it.  Just be sure to have avalanche education and awareness.

I recommend this hike as a great way to train for winter ascents.  It’s a relatively low danger area and will give you a taste of what the wind can be like above tree line.  Be prepared though, if you’re not, you’ll quickly realize it, and should make the smart decision to turn around.  This is a great hike to get used to early start times.  Since the Bear Lake parking lot fills up quickly, get there before sunrise and practice summiting before noon.  Colorado is known for its summer lightning storms, which can traditionally, but not always, roll in right after 12pm. 


For a detailed resource on hiking Colorado's 14ers, Chris recommends checking out Gerry Roach's book, Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs.

chris-denu-guest-post-bio

You can learn more about Chris at his blog, The Bold Nomad!


We hope you enjoyed this guest post from Chris that details some of the best Colorado hikes for training. I'm looking forward to one day getting to spend more time in Colorado and hiking some of it's 14ers. If you're looking for another adventure out in Colorado, check out our report on hiking the Colorado 14er Grays Peak

Also, be sure to check out our guide to the best training hikes in Southern California as well!



Alright now, no more excuses! Put these 5 best hiking trails in Colorado on your list and get to training!

Cheers,

Allison

 
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